FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS ABOUT
IL BEL CENTRO: A YEAR IN THE BEAUTIFUL CENTER
HOW DID YOU FIND SPELLO?
Once we settled on Italy, we decided we wanted to live in a region we’d visited before, within easy distance of a fabulous city. This led us to Tuscany and Umbria, and once we’d read that Tuscany was dubbed “Tuscanyshire” enough times, we opted for Umbria, as we wanted to experience Italy, not be surrounded by expats.
I began by looking on sites like vrbo and homeaway for three bedroom homes in small towns that had schools within walking distance. I sent query emails to ask about the availability for a yearlong rental. Not too many towns fit this description, at least in our price range, though I did learn that when you are looking at a long-term rental, the monthly cost of the apartment is between one and two times the listed weekly price.
We wound up with a list of five houses/towns, and Keith and I flew to Italy to scope them out. Once we landed, we immediately ruled out living in the town that I thought would be my favorite. I had thought that I wanted a town of about 1,000 people, but what I didn’t know was that towns that small just don’t resonate with me (or at least not the ones we saw with available apartments). Too quiet, and often the energy of the town is clustered outside the ring road. Keith and I found ourselves whispering as we walked through the streets. We felt like we were in a library.
Our spirits sagged, but when we arrived in Spello it was like the clouds parted. There was so much action and vibrancy and everyone we met was friendly and helpful. It was a slam-dunk.
How did you find your apartment?
I had emailed with a woman about staying in one of her vacation rentals, but as that was falling through, she connected me with Loris. He had just finished renovating his childhood home and was looking for a family to rent it long-term. Connections are vital.
How can we move to Spello?
Our experience was extraordinary, it really was, but I believe that everyone should have their own experience. I know people who have landed in every corner of Italy for a period abroad like ours and they are all as grateful to have wound up where they did, I just happened to write about ours. No place is perfect, everywhere will have some up and some downsides. I believe the learning to adapt to those is critical.
So rather than figuring out how to get to Spello, I encourage you to blaze your own path. Think about what you want to see outside your window, what region you are curious about, or just toss a dart at map. The act of making that place your own will be transformative. And tell me where you wind up, I’d love to hear about your adventure!
Did you always plan on write the book?
Before we moved abroad, our lives were consumed with renovating our century old house in Charlottesville. During that never-easy process it dawned on me that in these places where things are rough, that’s where growth is.
I particularly remember this moment when I was frustrated because I was tired of living in a house with floor-boards open to allow the entrance of possums and walls “plastered” with sheets of burlap. I was impatient for that moment when the house would be a pleasure, rather than a hardship.
Then all of a sudden, it hit me—I have everything I need. My children, family, health.
It’s not profound, I know. It’s pretty much what mindfulness is based on, but it was a flash that hit me to my core, and that has stayed with me, as my elemental philosophy.
I have everything I need.
As time went on and I experienced more a-ha moments in the house renovating, it became clear to me that my life here is lovely… so lovely that I don’t really have an opportunity to hit those stuck places where growth happens.
So even though my practice was growing, and my children were thriving, and I’d found a creative outlet in writing, I knew that at my core, I wasn’t really growing. I suspected that I was a fairly anxious person, covered with a thin veneer of comfort with the familiarity of my world.
Even though it’s true that Keith and I always wanted to move abroad for the sheer adventure of it, the reason I worked to happen when we’d all but given up was that I knew I needed to push myself.
I’ve always been attracted to stories of people doing something different for a year—Julie and Julia, Nickel and Dimed, The 100-Mile Diet. When we put limitations on ourselves, I believe it forces us to get clearer, and for me, adding constraints is a recipe for creativity.
I know that most people think of travel as freeing—walls falling away, and we experience an escape from our lives. But it’s also constraining. When you are traveling, you have to actually think about things as basic as “where can I find a bathroom?” and “how can I ask for a bottle of water?”
Language, custom, social niceties, these things are no longer easy. And when they aren’t easy, we have to actually think about our lives in new ways. And those new ways breed new thoughts, new understandings, new patterns.
I knew, just KNEW that like house renovating, this process would reveal aspects of myself I might not necessarily be comfortable with, but confronting them would stimulate me to grow. And I wanted to chronicle these changes.
And the writing. As a therapist, I’ve long been a fan of writing as a therapeutic process. This time I was turning the lens to myself.
Every day but Sundays, I woke up and got the kids ready for school, and then Keith and I would go out for coffee and I’d wonder aloud. “What will I write about today?” And I’d think about the day before, where I was stuck, what happened, and (like all good Quakers) what those stuck places were metaphors for (Quakers love metaphors). Then I’d go home and write. I’d write and I’d write, and it was revealing and scary sometimes, but I’d take a breath and hit publish.
It was that experiencing and writing that led me to significant realizations about my own life, and not just of the duly noted and forgotten variety, but the kind that changed me.
So, yes, writing this book was always part of the plan. What wasn’t part of the plan was how much I’d miss not writing it anymore. I expected to feel some measure of grief at leaving behind people and routines and facets of our Italian life. I had no idea I would miss writing my book. But I did. And I do.